Game expectations and results: an unnecessary defense of Dooley

I know that most of us here at RTT are still in wait and see mode regarding Coach Dooley. I love his personality and his ideas on how to build a team. However, he hasn't been anywhere long enough for them to grow to fruition, so we're still justifiably biding our time, watching, and hoping. 

But some people have evidently decided that last night's game put Dooley on the hot seat. This is utterly insane, if for no other reason than that four coaches in five years is even worse than three coaches in three years. Apparently, we've all forgotten the state of the roster that he took over and that the last two losses occurred without the team's projected best player at three (!) position groups (Lathers, Jackson, Hunter). 

We should all know the reasons that Dooley's expectations were low. His Tennessee teams just haven't had the talent of Kiffin's or Fulmer's. But when vague, amorphous comments about talent are the only arguments, it's hard to make much more of a case than "Isn't this obvious? Isn't believing otherwise insane?" I find the horrific state of the roster obvious and believing Dooley is underachieving (especially relative to Kiffin or post-2004 Fulmer) insane. Apparently, some others find it insane that there are those who are still willing to use the "rebuilding" excuse for the seventh year in a row. My personal feelings on the matter are that rebuilding was an excuse from 2005-2008, a reality in 2009, and a much bigger reality in 2010 and 2011. It's incorrect to use seven straight years, but that's not because it's incorrect now--it's because it was incorrect then. But again, once you get beyond attrition numbers, there's not much more to argue but "isn't it obvious?"

So I decided to look for something a little more hard and fast, and I decided on betting lines. If there's a more objective measure of a team's expected performance on a game by game basis, I don't know it. And if you know it, congratulations on your fortune. Of course, the lines can be off, and sometimes be obviously off. But they aren't set by Tennessee homers, and they're the most objective thing we've got. What do they say? Follow me past the jump (bullets at the end for the reading or time-impaired). . . 

Overall records


  • Philip Fulmer (2007-2008): 15-11
  • Lane Kiffin (2009): 7-6
  • Derek Dooley (2010-2011): 9-9

Records as a favorite

  • Philip Fulmer (2007-2008): 12-3 [losses: 2007 Alabama (-1), 2008 UCLA (-7), 2008 Wyoming (-27)]
  • Lane Kiffin (2009): 7-2 [losses: UCLA (-10), Auburn (-2)]
  • Derek Dooley (2010-2011): 9-0

Records as an underdog

  • Philip Fulmer (2007-2008): 3-8 [wins: 2007 Georgia (+1), 2007 Kentucky (+2), 2008 Vanderbilt (+3)]
  • Lane Kiffin (2009): 0-4
  • Derek Dooley (2010-2011): 0-9

Records in projected single digit games (+10 to -10)

  • Philip Fulmer (2007-2008): 9-9 [wins: Georgia, Miss St (x2), South Carolina, Arkansas, Kentucky (x2), Wisconsin, Vanderbilt. losses: Cal, Florida (x2), Alabama (x2), Auburn, UCLA, South Carolina, LSU]
  • Lane Kiffin (2009): 3-4 [wins: Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky. losses: UCLA, Auburn, Ole Miss, Virginia Tech]
  • Derek Dooley (2010-2011): 4-3 [wins: Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Cincinnati. losses: North Carolina, Georgia, Florida]

Records as a favorite in projected single digit games (0 to -10)

  • Philip Fulmer (2007-2008): 6-2 
  • Lane Kiffin (2009): 3-2
  • Derek Dooley (2010-2011): 4-0

Records as an underdog in projected single digit games (+10 to 0)

  • Philip Fulmer (2007-2008): 3-7
  • Lane Kiffin (2009): 0-2
  • Derek Dooley (2010-2011): 0-3

What does that tell us? Well, when people say that Dooley hasn't been setting the house afire, they're right. He hasn't notched a single upset victory. But if they're pining away for the underdog success of Fulmer and Kiffin, they're ignorant. Derek Dooley has the best record in projected one score games in the last five years of Tennessee football and he's the only coach in the last five years who hasn't lost as a double-digit favorite. In fact, he hasn't lost as a favorite at all. 

Remember those great upsets that made us so excited about Kiffin? They tell you something about how narrative can shape fan perspective. We were favored by a point against Georgia in 2009, and we were favored by 6 against South Carolina in 2009. That's more than we were favored against Kentucky in any of the last FOUR years. In fact, it's more than we were favored by against Cincinnati this year. But is Cincinnati being hailed as the victory that proves Tennessee moving in the right direction? Not hardly. And why? Because South Carolina has improved significantly since 2009, and perception of the game has changed to match. Fact is, Cincinnati may well be better than that Gamecock team, and they're certainly better than the 2009 UCLA team that beat us 19-15. UCLA's only other win over a bowl team: Temple. And lest the last couple weeks cloud our judgement, that was the same 2009 Temple that lost to FCS Villanova. 

In the last five years, Tennessee has won as an underdog three times, all under Fulmer. Our biggest upset based on expectations at the time was against Vanderbilt. Yes, that Vandy team went to a bowl, but they also lost to Duke and Wake Forest. And apart from Vandy and Kentucky, Tennessee has notched just one upset victory since the 2006 opener, and that was as a measly one-point underdog to Georgia in 2007. 

As a fan base, should we live with being constant underdogs and never managing an upset victory? Of course not. But in the last two years, we've had exactly three chances to pull an upset in a projected single digit game. I think we can all agree that the Florida and North Carolina games had their own unique circumstances, which leaves only Georgia. It leaves the fan base furious that we didn't manage to pull an upset in our only chance that didn't involve a key injury or ending so crazy as to spawn a rule change. That's no worse than our previous coach, whose only chance (excepting special Pilot circumstances) was a 37-14 thrashing at the hands of Virginia Tech, and who also lost two games as a favorite. It's arguably worse than 2008, where we had four chances before finally coming through with a shocking upset over a 7-6 Vanderbilt juggernaut, but I think all of us would agree that losses as favorites of 7 and 27 points do more than cancel that out. And, that aside, 1-3 is not clearly an improvement over 0-1.

So no, this isn't an acceptable state for Tennessee football. And yes, last night sucked. But it was one game. Let's at least have more than one chance to get the win that pulls us out of it before we go talking about hot seats. And let's realize that the chance won't be this year, as LSU, Alabama, South Carolina, and Arkansas should all be heavily favored over a Bray-less Tennessee. 

Summary for the tl;dr crowd

  • Since 2008, we're 1-8 as an underdog of less than 10 (0-8 as a dog of 10+)
  • That win was over Vanderbilt. 
  • So let's not act like this is some new failure by Dooley. And be patient. 
  • Also, Dooley is 4-0 as a favorite of 0-10 points. 
  • Kiffin was 3-2. 
  • Fulmer was 6-2 in his last two years. 
  • So actually, Dooley is an improvement in winning games we should win. 
  • And 2008 Fulmer had a better winning percentage as a small favorite than 2009 Kiffin. 
  • Hahahahaha.
  • We all want faster improvement, but let's not hold coaches to unreasonable expectations. Be patient. Again. 
  • If we're revisiting this post in December of 2012 and we're not laughing about how paranoid we were, it's time for hot seat talk.
  • Right now, Barbara was right: it's idiotic. No other way to spin it. 
  • Also, this post will become obsolete in six days when we shock LSU. ;-)

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